Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Best Laid Plans/Under The Milky Way Tonight: The 24 Hours of Moab Race Report, Part 2

When I last left off, the Dirty Girls were up, running, and had made it through the batting order one time, finding ourselves in a dead heat for the lead with team Monkey Love in the Open (6-10 person) division. We didn't come in with a ton of killer instinct to make mincemeat of the competition, but we are definitely competitors. This was good motivation to really hammer out our afternoon laps, and stay on the ball with smooth baton handoffs. It was a great time of day to spectate the laps of our teammates, and I did wander over for several of the exchanges. Jen passed cleanly off to Nick...

And then, in 45 minutes or so, I was NOT in the tent doing the sunscreen-I was waiting right there for the baton, no search party required to locate me. The baton was handed off with a dramatic flourish, and off I went again. This time, the heart rate was down a bit since I didn't have the hurry-up start, and even though I'd done the equivalent of a speed/hill workout combo in the morning, the body felt great and loose. I POSED my way up the slick rock, and noticed a weird trickle of fluid up ahead. Looking up, I see that the dude 20 feet ahead is actually taking a leak WHILE running. Seriously? Yuck. Pull off to the side, man-you're not going to save any time over the course of 24 hours by peeing on yourself and on the course.

When I turned back downhill, I was really flying, but continued to focus on running the tangents across the slickrock, and just staying mentally sharp. It's neither smooth nor flat, and that surface is pretty damn hard if you go down. I made it down to the winding dirt trail feeling strong, and just enjoyed this pretty, secluded section of trail that moved along a wash before climbing back up to the road for home. When I came back in, I was pleased to stop my Garmin a smidge earlier than on the first loop at around 49:50 before handing off to Julie again.

We were now at a really mellow part of the day. Some of the Mad Dogs and Dirty Girls hung out in chairs around camp, telling stories about snakes, other adventure races (all I can say is WOW to a certain story about a famous "White Horse" who figures in prominently to that barefoot running book that Chris McDougall wrote), and randomness.

Many took this as an opportunity for a midday snooze. I am not much of a napper or long sleeper, so I wandered around to catch my slumbering teammates. During this stretch of time, I also took a trip into town with Jen and Nick, just to grab a few random items and to get a slight change of scenery. Upon our return, we fueled up on chili with our teammates, and started discussing the night runs. Now, I run regularly in the wee morning hours with a head lamp. Currently, I'm out twice a week at 4:50, and last summer and fall, I was averaging three to four early mornings a week because there are just more runners in the nice weather months willing to get up at the butt-crack of dawn to run. That said-most of it was on paved surfaces-road, bike trail/path-not true trail running in pitch darkness. Still, I felt pretty confident that I could slow myself down just a little bit and get through it safely.

Mike suggested that we try running with a flashlight in hand along with wearing the head lamp. One of my sometime-running partners actually prefers to run with just a flashlight if he needs anything at all during an early morning or evening run-doesn't even own a headlamp-and never has issues. Seemed like a good thing to try out even though I normally don't run that way. The sun was setting as Nick was out for his third lap, and this meant I was going to be the first person on the team doing a loop through the darkness. I was a little nervous, but also excited at the prosect. There's something freeing about running in the dark, and I almost feel like I expend less effort and go a little faster that way. I don't's just very zen.

When I began my lap, I was very conscious of lifting my knees so as to not catch my toe on a rock and take a digger. I remained relaxed, though-a key to staying upright. Just after the first mile, I got a little bit off-course into some brushy stuff and had to momentarily stop. Soon, though, I saw one of the green glow sticks being used to mark the way. Moving to the slick rock, I had to start looking for the white hash marks to find my way. This was a bit tougher, and I was kind of weaving and not running the tangents so well. At one point going uphill, I did stumble and tip over but I wouldn't even call it a fall. I sort of caught myself, stood up and kept going.

Coming back down, Audra from the Mad Dogs came up alongside me, said hello, and moved just a little bit ahead. I tried to pick up the pace just a bit to see if I could stay with her, and it felt good. This actually made for a much brighter path, too, with both of our head lamps and my flashlight. The flashlight was working out fabulously-I could use it to spot the white hash marks or glow sticks without really having to turn my body. I finished up this lap at 9:30 pm and in about 57 minutes-a time I thought was pretty decent for total darkness, and not trying to run fast and stupid. There were updated standings posted by now, and we now had a miniscule lead over the Love Monkey team. I did my first night watch shift, which involved just hanging out and waking up the person two ahead of me in the rotation when it was about 15 minutes out from their run time. Then, I headed over to Shannon's van of awesomeness. I would be napping on the padded bench/couch in there (did I mention the van had HEAT?), and when I curled up in there it felt like a five star hotel. Of course, I was pretty grubby for a five star hotel after three cycles of run-sweat like a pig, dry off, repeat. Still, it was nice to have relative luxury at this point when I was kind of tired and needed a decent nap.

At around 2 am, Jen woke me up for my last loop. I was SO nice and cozy and had a bit of trouble getting up at first. Once I sat up, though, I realized I did feel pretty good. A little coffee at the aid tent while I was waiting really helped too. There, I wound up standing right next to former national cross country champion Melody Fairchild, who was there with one of the ultrarunning training groups. That's something I love about this sport-you don't get to stand side-by-side with greatness in many other sports.

As the time for my turn grew closer, I was standing around truly disturbed by some of the Spice Girls and other tunes coming from the radio-and thinking wow, I'm getting ready to run in the dark at 2:30 a.m. It was just cool to see bobbing lights moving down the road in the dark, and just waiting until the runners got to be about ten feet away before they took recognizable form. When Nick made it back in, it was finally time for me to go for what would be my last lap of the race. I was off to a great start this time. I anticipated the spot where I wandered off into the brush on the first night lap, and made it through without steering off-course. Right on.

As I moved up the slick rock, I did notice that my breathing was great, I felt alert and relaxed, but wow, the legs were kind of gooey and tired. I paid special attention to moving safely and lifting my knees, but the ankles were a little loose and rolly. Coming to the halfway point, I noticed several runners who were steering off-course and just getting plain lost momentarily before rejoining the trail. I turned to the downhill section and thought this is it...just 2.5 miles or so and I'll be at 22 miles for my team.

Probably about three miles in, though, my glitch for the mission happened. I was running, and then without warning I rolled my left ankle REALLY hard, and down I went. The pain in that instant was agonizing; I have never fallen and felt anything like that before. It felt broken, and I thought s#it, there goes Boston. There goes my team winning or placing. I pulled myself up slowly and tried hobble-limping. This hurt tremendously BUT I could move on it. So, maybe it wasn't broken. As I kept moving, it still hurt a lot but it seemed like I could get away with a hobble-jog. I soon was able to get back up to a slow run and it seemed like my ankle was pretty well numbed up by now. Nobody is going to come to rescue you out here so regardless, I pretty much needed to put on the big girl panties and finish this lap off.

My Garmin died somewhere late in this lap so I really don't know my time. I think it was probably about an hour and fifteen minutes with my fall, and time on the ground, walking, and slow shuffling. Still, I was SO glad to be able to make it in and not have a huge impact in the big scheme of things. I chowed on a grilled cheese sandwich and potato soup at the tent during my watch time, and then took a three hour nap after waking Shannon, who filled in for Sara to be the only person on the team to get in a fifth lap. This wound up being the last official lap, as there was maybe forty minutes left in the race. Jen decided to go do a lap just for fun since she was up anyway, and we all started making our way to the aid tent, knowing that we were going to place. We just were not sure which position.

Soon, they were going through the different categories of the race, and finally they arrived on Open Co-Ed. Third was announced...not Dirty Girls. Second...not Dirty Girls. First place...with 134-odd miles...DIRTY GIRLS! We were ecstatic, jumped up and down like little kids, and collected our medals. Soon, we were taking photos and high fiving...until the race director got on the mic. There was a scoring error, he said. Another team actually had one more lap than us, so we would need to give back our medals and exchange them for second place. Now...we'd seen a runner come in at 7:02 from that team. The race ended at 7:00am. It seemed that the winning team may have lobbied for that lap to count. We were kind of perturbed, but whadaya gonna do? We had run our asses off, had supported one another throughout, worked well as a team and basically couldn't have had a better experience together as a team. Almost everyone was sick, a little injured (or, if you're me, became a little injured). Still, we got out there, and gave it our best shot for the good of the team. Sounds corny but we felt like winners even if the results didn't officially reflect this. The Mad Dogs also had a stellar showing, finishing third in the Extreme Team division with their three member team, and against larger and "known" teams (winning team from Eagle/Vail included Western States 100 champ Anita Ortiz). It was a good day for our motley crew.

We got some nice team shots, and then headed back to strike the camp and roll out of town. The weekend seemed to have flown by in a blur, and like childbirth, I didn't even remember the painful parts, like wiping out, or that I reeked of campfire and sweat. No, this was a really special weekend and I kind of didn't want it to end. We all had to go back to the real world, though, so after saying good-byes, Jen and I headed to breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe (I LOVE their breakfasts, but they never seem to be open when I'm in Moab for races), then headed east to Colorado.

Back in town, that ankle has become more than just a passing tweak. By Sunday night, I couldn't bear weight on it. The thing looked like someone had taken a bike pump and inflated it. By the next morning, though, it looked better and I thought that if I skipped my morning run, I could get away with doing a greatly modified ballet class. WRONG. Made it halfway through, and pulled what we call the "adult card." Ironically, we talk about it a lot but rarely play it. Tonight, I knew something was messed up, and quit when I saw it puffing up literally as class went on.

I did make it to the doctor, and got what was initially devastating news to me. She told me it was so swollen she couldn't even do a proper exam, ordered an xray, anti-inflammatories and pain meds, got me a walking cast/boot, and said that the Boston Marathon was probably out even if it was not a broken ankle or other bone. I was crushed. I'd been running well, was focused, and just had a tired body when I fell. When the x-ray came back, though, the doctor's office called to tell me that there was no fracture, and that she wanted to see me in a week, not two, and "talk about getting you to that race." I don't know for sure, but I foresee a LOT of time with a bike on the bike trainer I won as a door prize at that New Year's Day ski race. And that's okay. I'm thrilled and relieved that Boston is still probably going to happen.

I absolutely loved my experience in Moab, even with the ankle debacle. You just can't go through life never doing anything because there's a possibility of getting hurt, or because it's a little scary or out of your element. This really pushed me out of that comfort zone in many ways, but there was also this great group of people there for it all, having one another's backs and being there for one another. We loved the experience so much that there's already talk of doing "Dirty Girls II-The Laramie Project," and running the same event in Laramie, Wyoming in June. If I don't get hit by a bus between now and then, I'm there with bells on, and trail dirt on my shoes. I am a Dirty Girl, after all.


Rachelle Wardle said...

I just love your detailed account of this event. How fun. I have done several Ragnar Relays and this event seems very similar to them. Team racing is absolutely the best and nothing can compare.

I absolutely love your attitude with dealing with your injury. Best of luck to you. You WILL run Boston no matter what and that is really all that matters.

Keep your head up! :)

Jen said...

WOW! That just sounds amazing....sorry about the injury and hopefully the DRs will help you get to Boston.

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Christina said...

I'm amazed at how you down played the ankle. If that were my race report, I'd have started off crying. When I was training for a BQ marathon, I sprained my ankle out on a run (fell off a curb) and cried and cried out on the sidewalk. I had no big girl panties. I too was fortunate there was no fracture. The bruising was on both sides, the toes were swollen little purple grapes and I was on crutches for a week. I started running 3 weeks later but a qtr mile and then increasing it. How did the results of your MRI turn out?